Interview with Clay Usie
What did you think when filmmaker Edet Belzberg approached you about this film?
I was at work, and she called me directly at my desk, introduced herself and asked me if I'd be interested. I was humbled and delighted she would ask me to do this, but I told her it really wasn't my say whether I could or not. To be quiet honest - not that I was indifferent to doing it - but I kind of blew it off like, "Oh, this is just another form of congratulations," which I appreciated but didn't really see happening. And then a couple of days later I got calls from my public-affairs officers, and I guess it made its way all the way up the channels. The Army requested that I consider doing it. Edet came down and shadowed me for a couple of days. We ultimately made a decision and let my chain of command know that I thought that it would be a good thing to support.
With the politics surrounding the war, were you at all afraid you'd be characterized badly in the film?
I really didn't have any issues with the way they were gonna characterize me. I'm one of those guys that ... I'm a chest-thumping freedom fighter. It's what I believe in, and I'm a patriot. Those people that are most important to me in life - my family, my personal friends and my brothers in arms in the military - they know that's what I'm about and that I'm passionate about what I do for a living. So I had no issues and told my chain of command, "You know, if I'm gonna be hindered to left-and- right limits as to changing my personality for this film, then I don't want to do it." I wanted to show who I am, and no one had any issues with that.
Did the cameras have any effect on how you did your job, whether helping or hindering?
It was kind of a catch-22, to be honest with you. I think sometimes it drew attention to where it was, "Ok, who's this guy walking around in uniform and he's got a camera following him?" I kind of tuned it out to be perfectly honest with you. Recruiting duty is very difficult. There's nothing simple about it. Every day is a challenge, and once you've met your requirements of that day, there's a whole new day to face. So, I was like, "Hey I got a job to get done regardless of whether Edet's here or not."
What kinds of challenges do you face as a recruiter?
There's a lot of things. You may meet an individual and they're fired up about doing this, and then the very next day, some type of reality may set in - not on their own but maybe a family member or a friend or a girlfriend will persuade them otherwise. From a recruiting standpoint, it's kind of disheartening. There's so many things that you can't control, but at the same time you have a mission to accomplish. Army recruiters are soldiers. They're not salesmen, they're not marketers. We're soldiers with a mission to find those Americans that want to serve voluntarily in defense of our nation.
Were you hoping that the film itself would serve as a type of recruitment tool?
I hope it does. I hope it sheds light in both arenas. From a personal standpoint, I think it's important to keep America informed of what's going on, and I think that the strife of a typical day in the life of a military recruiter is never properly conveyed because general consensus may think that it's a 9-to-5 job and it's easy duty - but it's far from it. At the same time, what a gift that military recruiter is giving to his nation by aggressively approaching challenges that people don't particularly want to hear or think about or talk about. But yet it's necessary because freedom's not free.
Matt, one of the recruits from the film, is now working as a recruiter himself at your former station in Louisiana - have you had much contact with him?
He's actually been in for a little over three years now. He was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and completed a combat rotation in Iraq, and he is now on recruiting duty. I've talked to him on the phone. He stays in touch with me on a pretty regular basis, and I still continue to mentor him. He called me to ask me what I thought about him volunteering for it, just like when he talked to me as a civilian deciding to join the Army. He's doing well.
When you forge a personal relationship with these young people, how tough is it for you to deal with recruits who've come home wounded or been killed in action?
I haven't had any soldiers that I personally recruited that have fallen into that boat. If and when it does happen, my heart'll bleed sorrow just like it would for any other comrades that have been wounded or killed in action. It's an ultimate responsibility to serve, and unfortunately when you go to war you can't promise anyone that you are gonna come back. My personal belief is that I can base my faith in God and call on my training and try to make sure that me and my men come home safely.
Did your strength ever falter where you thought, "Oh my God, what if something happens to one of these kids? I'm going to feel personally responsible for it."
A lot of recruiters probably have asked themselves that question and I have to honestly say, yes, I've thought of that. But it's a personal decision for a young man or a young woman to serve, and I can't hold myself accountable. If something happens, my belief is that when it's your time to go, it's your time to go. I would grieve the loss of that individual. But at the same time they were doing what they volunteered to do, and they were honored to do it. I would not undermine their commitment by allowing my strength to falter. If anything, I'd find strength and resolve in continuing to fight harder to preserve their memory and to ensure that their actions were not done in vain.